This “race” takes place in the Bordeaux region of south-west France and combines Medoc’s famed local red wines with their winemakers’ dazzling chateaux. Aid stations are placed every 2-3km and are stocked with local wine produce as well as water and all types of food including oysters and steak – no wonder all starters need to provide a doctor’s certificate in order to start: The official name is Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc (complete with awesome circumflex and grave). Fancy. The map below indicates that we travelled in a clockwise and meandering route starting and finishing in Paulliac on the Garonne River:
It calls itself “the longest marathon in the world” due to meandering that can occur during the second half.
Competitors have 6.5 hours to wander across the finish line and into the beer tent. Those later home don’t receive a 750ml bottle of Bordeaux…and possibly their finisher’s medal. On the positive side, winning male and female receive their own weight in wine. This was to be the 34th running of this marathon, with an “Amusement Park” theme. We had decided to dress up as a team of Wiggles, with the Amusement Park theme link tenuous at best but I say we are runners not thinkers.
Seven Terrigal Trotters attended, exhibiting differing levels of fitness, luggage weight (Richard!), French language skills and recent demonstrated appreciation for good red wine. They were:
- Richard Duggan (renamed Du Gan for the trip to France) – Blue Wiggle
- Lily Du Gan – Dorothy Dinosaur
- Amy Chan – Yellow Wiggle
- Charles Chan – Purple Wiggle
- Nick Swan -Fifth Wiggle in a dodgily-stained green t-shirt
- Bart Dekker – a copy Yellow Wiggle
- Robert Thomson – Captain Feathersword
You will of course notice that there was no Red Wiggle. This was not because of our total respect for red wine, but because the ABC Shop had decided to shut down and they didn’t have the stock.
We met in the lovely city of Bordeaux in the days leading up to the Saturday marathon, under the care of mother-hen Lee Peacock of Travelling Fit. It was his 4th time coordinating, and he was wryly funny in an annoying UK accent kind of way. He is working his way up to actually running it some year. I think to call the hotel digs on the Economy tour “spartan” would be insulting to Ancient Sparta. Some sardines caught off the coast at Arcachon would have suited our room. And we had roadworks with exposed electrical wires right outside the hard-to-spot hotel entrance.
While on the organised Travelling Fit tour to Arcachon on France’s west coast we met a new Sydney friend Carol and her non-running hubby Zac. We also met Kathryn, a runner from Perth, who happened to be good friends with and workmate to Rob’s Best Man at his wedding almost 29 years ago! Both women were bound for Berlin, also with Lee, the following week.
Richard, Bart & Rob went for Friday’s optional 7k morning run but a grand total of 6 people went, including Lee, and our new besties Carol and Zac.
Well, there was plenty of eating and drinking while in Bordeaux, and not necessarily in that order. It was clear that some Trotters were punching well above their weight…wanting to test their limits of endurance before the big day, to my mind a highly professional approach.
The start line is an hour’s drive north of Bordeaux in Paulliac. So we met at the hotel quite early and compared outfits. Standing amongst Steve Irwin, Mary Poppins and a bunch of strongmen, we were clearly fancy-ish and not fanci-est fancy dressers.
Onto the bus and we headed north as my lovely wife progressively stalked my geographic position from her iPad bunker in Sydney, sending me Google map screenshots every now and then to prove it. From her cheap seat she stated she was very disappointed the Garonne River appeared to be mission-brown. This brown colour should perhaps be used instead of the lovely blue colour in the course map above.
As we approached Paulliac we saw lots of vines and lots of fancy dress! We hopped off and took group photos after which the boys checked out the riverbank, with the girls accessing the retail shops for a more civilised means of (ahem) race preparation.
There were plenty of representations of duckies. Toy ducks. People dressed in duck-worthy t-shirts. Runners carrying sticks with hooks that could grab ducks in amusement park games. Many were singles or whole teams dressed in full-length duck costumes. Was this the Marathon Me-Duck?
Well, we eventually stood beside a huge yellow duck, maybe a dozen feet high, rested on a cart with handles and wheels, and manned by a team of people from the Paris Triathlon Club. I will henceforth call it Duck. I said to any who would hear, and the second of many fabulous Anglo-French puns, “I canard-ly believe that will go very far”.
There were two slightly scary fly-bys by French fighters. Noisier than the French music belting out and scarier than most of the mankinis present. I yelled “Duck!” but there were no laughing ripostes, most probably the lack of English skills in the crowd. It was warming up but promised to be a beautiful clear day, and the place was buzzing with excitement!!
Those who could, counted down from “dix” to “Allez!”. Then we walked for a full 10 minutes until we crossed the start line, with everybody still in good spirits. Pretty soon I was grouped with Bart, Richard and Nick as Lily had apparently sprinted forward and out of reach. Team Chan had dropped back.
As we entered the 2km mark and into a single lane access through a small town Duck almost squashed me as it rolled forward in a straight line, but I got out of the way just in time. The people rolling Duck shouted “Attention!” whenever some loser threatened to be squashed. Duck had worked up ahead of steam, and not a little moxie. Also at 2km, the first wine station was so overcrowded that we decided to push on without partaking.
At 3km there was a big crowd around not much water at all, and we got separated. I stayed with Duck thinking the others may do the same. I wasn’t to see any of them until we got on the bus some 39km later. At nearly 8km and the very long train of colour was entering driveways and into the front yards of chateaux. These things were both huge and beautifully maintained, a bit like Duck. I had a sip of red but limited to 10ml…however, I would drink a little 150ml water every time it was made available…this was crucial.
At 10km we went through a chateau with a band rocking out to Police songs. Everybody dancing like pagans without a care that there was 32km to run. It was already 25 degC at this stage and I was starting to sweat – a lot. Nestled under my armpit my feathery sword was dripping with sweat. Noice.
At 21km there was some shade and people were starting to walk. I had got there by around 2.5hours including the 10 minute delay to start. This meant I had up to 4 hours to “enjoy” the final half. I would start to tipple (but not topple) from 24km. The crowd support was second-to-none. Plenty of high-fives and also food prepared by local families, between the wine stops. I still tried to limit wine volume to around 25ml each stop. Then I saw it. Duck was still ahead of me at the 25km mark. I was not going to be put to the sword by this avian monster despite the heat…I was feeling pretty good and slowly gained on it and went around it as its triathlete helpers made sure it got under some overhead lines. There was no way I would become the butt of some old unfounded canard lol.
I was feeling quite good and am pleased to say I didn’t walk further for the remainder unless I stopped for a good reason.
The last bits
In the last 8kms or so I passed Wonder Woman Carol, and we leapfrogged each other as I had decided to wait for Bart/Richard/Nick to turn up, and she wasn’t stopping to drink. But when we got to the oyster tent at 39km and I stopped again this time for 20mins without partaking (yuck!) I decided to go on ahead and finish. Got there before Duck did – but Duck did finish. Across the line I noticed someone had dropped a cashcard so I gave it into Security. Then I received a medal, a bottle in a box, a wine cooler and a cup for getting free beer.
There was free food and beer in the tent. There was a DJ. With that combo, I thoroughly enjoyed my 45mins until I had to leave for the bus and met the other peeps except Team Chan who weren’t quick enough to meet the deadline but did get back to the hotel ok.
My feathersword had turned into a flaccidsword. My shoes and socks stank more than my sweaty shirt. The next day we went back for a 8k walk through different vineyards. It was great, and we had a top luncheon afterwards at which there were Brazilian dancers and musicians, and another dance floor. And a kegful of red wine for replenishment and/or medicinal purposes. Good times on the dance floor:
This marathon has plenty going for it. Lots of goodwill, music and a generous 6.5hr finishing time on a generally flat course. However, 80% was off-road and dusty and the circa 30 degC heat made it quite difficult to manage, especially with the temptation of as much red wine as you can hold. Travelling Fit did a splendid job and provides guaranteed entries for highly-coveted entries. Personally, I was quite blown away by the level of fitness of all the athletes, from those with sad costumes like ours, to those with full costumes on in the heat, and finally to those who were pushing sizeable carts along gravel roads at quite a decent pace. The crowd was great too, and the volunteers were all in a great mood despite the heat.
Everybody had the right spirit…truly a party marathon.